We, Who Need Such Great Mysteries

January 8, 2010

I think that I’m stuck in the denial stage of grief. It’s not that I deny the fact that my father is dead – his ashes sit in a box on my mantle, surrounded, at the moment, by a few Christmas ornaments and my kids’ picture with Santa and Emilia’s bardo-drawing – it’s that I can’t wrap my head around the fact – is it a fact? – that his death is the end, that his life is over, that I’ll never see or speak with him again. The absoluteness of it all, the finality: I’m having trouble accepting this. I can’t accept this. My heart aches from its stubborn refusal to accept this.

And so I flail about, telling myself stories about ghosts and angels and the afterlife. I struggle to grasp onto my old modes of faith, to the articles of certainty – that there is a heaven, that there are angels, that after death the soul takes flight to a world that is – invisible? eternal? – and thereupon arriving is assured of bliss – that carried me through the deaths of grandparents, acquaintances, beloved pets. I read The Shack while I was at my mom’s last week and found myself unmoved, unconvinced: why should I put in stock in some stranger’s account of his weekend with the Holy Trinity, of the reassurances he received from God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit that his dead daughter was fine, just fine,  more than fine, happy, blessed, romping through eternity with Jesus at her side! Why should I be, how could I be, comforted by this when I had no such assurances about my father? What did the experience of the narrator have to do with me? If God invited me to a cottage for the weekend and fed me good food and showed me my Dad communing with Jesus in fields of wildflowers, then sure I’d feel better. Wouldn’t we all? It would be so easy, then.

The point of faith is that we don’t have such assurances. The point of faith is that we believe without such assurances. I know this. I know this.

But I don’t know where my faith is. I want so desperately to find it. I want so desperately to believe, to know, that death is not the end, that it’s not final, that it – my relationship with my father – is not over. We weren’t finished. I didn’t get to say goodbye. There were more conversations to have, more hugs to exchange, more love to express. We weren’t done. He can’t be just gone. He can’t be. He can’t be.

I find myself, too many nights, too many days, reeling from the shock of the realization that he is gone, doubling over, falling to my knees, pressing my fists to my eyes to push back the tears. And invariably, as I reel and fall and struggle, I find myself telling myself that it – this, all this – just isn’t. It just isn’t. It’s not the end. It can’t be. And so I return to the old stories, the articles of faith that used to provide comfort, that could provide comfort still, if I could hold onto them the way that I used to. I tell myself that he must be somewhere. But where? Someone said to me, some months ago, that he’d gone to a better place, and I wanted to grab them by the collar and shake them and make them tell me, where? Where? How do you know? Do you know? Tell me!

I knew that they didn’t know. I was angry that they didn’t know. I am angry that I don’t know. I want so badly to know.

I read an exchange the other day between Jean Vanier and a Canadian writer, about death. Vanier wrote about how he felt when a beloved friend died, how he waited to hear from her, how he waited for some ghostly visit or dream message. “I had hoped that (she) might find a way of communicating with me,” he said. She didn’t. “All I can do,” he concluded, “is trust that she is well.” I too had hoped that my dad might find some way of communicating with me. I tell myself that he might have (I have stories; I am not ready to share them); I look for his messages everywhere, I look so closely that I worry I will miss them for looking. I look so closely, because I don’t quite – I don’t yet? – have the faith that would allow me to just trust.

I don’t know what such faith would look like, exactly. I look to the Bible, I look to the poets. I look to Socrates, who insisted that death should never be feared or mourned, because the soul’s release from the body is a liberation for which it -  if it loves wisdom, if it yearns for the goods that the body and the material world, the cave, cannot provide – strives. Socrates would tell me that I shouldn’t be looking for faith, I should be looking for understanding. But my head is muddled because I am distracted by my heart, my aching heart, and at the moment I can see no more light in wisdom than I can in my Children’s Illustrated Bible and my dog-eared copy of The Little Prince.

I think, part of the problem is, I do believe; there’s a way of looking at what I’ve called my denial and seeing it as faith, as a fervent attachment to the belief that this – life, physical existence, the here-and-now – is not it, that this cannot be it, that death is not an eternal nothing, consignment to dust and nothing more. But the skeptic in me tells me that that – that attachment to belief – is just magical thinking, wishful thinking, and for the life of me I can’t tease these apart or bring them together, my insistence upon rational explanation and my desire to be comforted by faith.

I don’t know. I just don’t know. I hate not knowing.

I’ve decided that the only way to confront this is to really, meaningfully explore faith. I’ve explored – I continue to explore – reason; I spent the better part of my adult life plugging away at the study of philosophy, battering back faith with books. Now I want to let down my guard and see if I can find faith again – it doesn’t matter where – and, if I can find it, see if we have anything in common. Part of this undertaking is banal, and biasedly so: I simply want to find some reassurance about death. I want – I actively want, even though I know that I might not find this, that it might not be possible to find this, that my comfort will derive from something other than this – to be reassured that, as Jean Vanier quotes Rabindranath Tagore, ‘death is not the lamp that goes out, but the coming of dawn.’ This desire is so ordinary, so expected, so given. But sometimes the greatest journeys begin as excursions toward and through the ordinary, as expeditions in search of received truths. Maybe. I don’t know.

I don’t really know what I’m doing here. I’m kind of giving in to the flailing. This will serve me ill, or well. We’ll see.


Do you believe in life after death? In anything after death? In some movement of the soul beyond the body, some extension of the spirit beyond the material? And whatever you believe, do you believe it fervently? Or cautiously? Or with with many heavy grains of salt or whatever seasoning it is that tempers flights of fancy, if that is indeed what these are? It’s okay if you don’t believe; I’m interested to hear it. But I also really want to hear if you do. I need to hear if you do. I’ve been afraid to ask. But I want to know.

*apologies to Rilke.

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    girlvaughn January 8, 2010 at 12:33 am

    I do believe. I was visited as a child by my grandfather in a dream – I never met him, he died long before I was born. Thinking nothing of it I described the dream to my grandmother, his wife, and she turned white and told me a story I I had never seen before (she did not talk about him. ever.) I had described the scene almost exactly as she remembered – only from what seemed to be his perspective. Over the years many strange things happened that there was no rational, non-believing, explanation for.

    I am not, and have never been religious. To me it’s just obvious.

    Her Bad Mother January 8, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    I have my own ghost/dream stories. I’m working up to share them.

    girlvaughn January 8, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    woah, I need to proofread. “TOLD me a story I had never ‘seen’ before?” right. I was too worked up to edit. :) I hope all of these amazing comments are helping. Definitely very thought-provoking
    .-= girlvaughn´s last blog ..Please do not get a malignant tumor and show up in my inbox =-.

    Kaleigh January 8, 2010 at 12:35 am

    I don’t believe in an afterlife. However, I don’t NOT believe in one, either. It’s so far beyond what I will experience in this life that I honestly don’t think about it, except when someone asks. I pretty much think when we’re dead, we’re dead, and that’s okay with me. Not comforting, necessarily, but also not scary. YMMV.
    .-= Kaleigh´s last blog ..2010 =-.

    Tasha January 8, 2010 at 12:35 am

    I never want to just believe in Heaven just in case it’s real so I’ll go there when I die. Faith is believing in what we can’t see. And when my mind says heaven sounds just too good to be true, I allow my heart to tell it to shut up. It’s a daily choice to choose faith over understanding. I can’t understand this life or the next, so I put my faith in something…Someone…bigger. Hope you find what you are looking for. Much peace to your aching heart.

    Amy K January 8, 2010 at 12:37 am

    I don’t believe that the spirit ends upon a body’s death, but I’ve always thought that religion and faith were fairy tales for adults (no offense, it’s just how I feel). I’ve never put much effort into acquiring faith because the truth of the matter is that NO ONE KNOWS. You won’t know what happens after death until you die, and it doesn’t matter how many religious gurus and philosophers you study, because they didn’t know either, and if they claimed to know then they were liars. They were simply trying to make themselves feel better about the great unknown, just like you are right now. I hope you find some peace, and I hope that you and your father meet again someday in a beautiful, unpredictable reunion.

    Cait January 8, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    That is pretty much exactly what I was going to write. Except with the addition that I am absolutely terrified of death- frozen in terror if I allow myself to think of it.

    Her Bad Mother January 8, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    I’m ambivalent about religion, attached to philosophy, open to exploring. I guess I’m looking for some deeper understanding of faith, and some deeper level of comfort with the idea of death.

    Gabriella January 8, 2010 at 12:37 am

    I do believe in life after death, i just don’t think that a person dies and that’s it. There has to be something more.

    momma_trish January 8, 2010 at 12:40 am

    I believe. I fervently believe. Because nothing else makes sense to me. I look at my friends, my sons, my husband, my parents, myself … we are all so unique and special – so different from each other. I just don’t get the sense that we came out of nothing.

    Those who argue that we weren’t created, but rather that our world and everything in it, that life itself is just happenstance … I understand why they think this way, but I just can’t buy it. I’ve heard the argument that God can’t have always existed, because everything originates from somewhere. But no matter how you cut it, the “how we came to be” exploration always returns to something that always existed. So what always existed: a big, black void, or a supreme being? Could just be me, but I find that “God was always there” is easier for me to believe than “a large void space was always there”. If one’s going to make sense, the supreme being theory is easier on my brain.

    And so, because I believe in God, I believe in heaven. I believe that heaven is difficult to understand, but it’s there. It doesn’t run on the timeline we are used to here. Heaven runs on its own unique timeline; we arrive there at exactly the right time. And things move forward, as they were meant to.

    And so, in my belief system, when your Dad arrived in heaven, he arrived surrounded by all the people that he loved. Yes, you’re still here, and you mourn him here. But someday, in the (hopefully very distant) future, when you arrive in heaven, you will arrive there at exactly the right time. You will meet up with him as he arrives, at exactly the right time. And it will be as though you were never apart. Because in the afterlife, you never are.
    .-= momma_trish´s last blog ..Deck the halls with your questionable photos?? No. I don’t think so. =-.

    Her Bad Mother January 8, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Lovely. Thank you.

    Tarasview January 8, 2010 at 12:43 am

    I fervently believe in God and life after death. I have believed in Jesus since I was a child but in highschool my mom (single parent) had a heart attack and very nearly died… it was at that point I had what I call a crisis of faith- I was terrified that she would die and I would be left alone. She didn’t die and all was well but in that dark time (and the years of her sickness following it) I cried out to God the best way my 15 year old heart knew how to do and God Himself gave me assurance that even if everything went horribly wrong and mom died HE would still be there and I would see my mom in heaven again one day.

    I have had 4 miscarriages and it comforts me a lot to know that I will see my babies in heaven one day… they are safe and sound with Jesus, not floating around in the dark abyss of nothingness or something.

    And you are so right- faith is just plain tough.

    Personally I think if you ask God to give you the assurance of Him and heaven etc. and you are earnestly seeking than He will most certainly answer.

    Don’t get me wrong- it is not all sunshine and lollipops and I am sure you know that… but that peace deep down that you KNOW everything is going to be ok in the end… that is what faith brings. It makes living with heartache easier to handle.

    God is big enough to handle our questions :)

    Her Bad Mother January 8, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    yeah, it’s that deep-down knowledge that I’m looking to make sense of – or, come to terms with. Accept.


    Maya January 8, 2010 at 12:44 am

    I believe with all of my heart that that there is life after death. I believe that families are forever. We spend our lives cultivating relationships. What kind of God would take that all away after we die? My father died 3 years ago. He had been mentally ill as long as I could remember and he killed himself. I KNOW that when I die, I’ll see him again, and it won’t be in Hell. I’ve lost more friends than I want to count, and I believe that I will see them, too. Since you are going to be checking out different faiths, here is a little bit more about what I believe: http://www.lds.org.

    I hope you find the church/religion that is a right fit for you and that brings you peace.
    .-= Maya´s last blog ..Beating Murphy’s Law =-.

    Her Bad Mother January 8, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    Thank you so much (for the link, too.)

    Janine Murray January 8, 2010 at 12:53 am

    Your pain is almost palpable, and I am so sorry for what you have experienced and are experiencing related to your father’s death. Your questions are expected, understandable, and I assume normal. I have not lost a parent yet. You ask if I believe in life after death … Yes, I absolutely do! And I believe it with all my heart. I am a Christian. One area of scripture that comes to mind is when Jesus tells his disciples that He will be going to His Father and that He is going to prepare a place for them to join them. His disciples ask how they will know the place where He is going so they can join Him, and Jesus responds “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” He basically encourages them that there is a special place in heaven and He will show them how to get there. This passage is in John 14. There is another verse that states that to be absent from the body is to present with the Lord.
    I don’t know how you feel about what I have shared, but you asked and I am giving you my personal opinion. I really hope you will find the answers and the peace you so desire and need.
    Love, Janine

    Her Bad Mother January 8, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    I asked, and I’m looking for all answers. The Christian ones are a return for me, because I was raised in that faith. It helps to hear it. It all helps. Thank you.

    b*babbler January 8, 2010 at 12:56 am

    I read your post. I am sitting in my living room, and across from me is the chair my father-in-law always sat in.

    Looking up, I can almost see him sitting there. The exact way he crossed his legs at the ankles, slightly slumped. A glass of white wine is balanced on his knee – just rewards for a long day of puttering around the house and playing with his granddaughter

    My father-in-law was spiritual. He died, quietly and suddenly, in the basement of his church, working on a project for the children of the community of his faith. He died in the 30 seconds he was alone. I (need to) believe that at that moment there was a quiet moment of grace in which he was visited by his God, that he was gently ushered on as a sort of spiritual reward for a life well-lived.

    Do I believe in life after death? I want to. I need to. Because if ever a man deserved to go gently to a better place, to a God that he served every day with his words and deeds, it is my father-in-law. And so, cautiously, I believe, despite my shaken faith (for how could you take him from us? How could you leave our already-tiny family bereft in this way?)

    And in the mere act of believing, by reaffirming that which my father-in-law believed in, I find myself, despite the loss, that little bit closer to Dad.
    .-= b*babbler´s last blog ..Book review: The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor by Sally Armstrong =-.

    Her Bad Mother January 8, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    It is a need, isn’t it? I experience it as a need. I *need* to believe.

    Hugs to you, Elle.

    Tricia January 8, 2010 at 12:59 am

    I grew up in a faith that teaches that persons just return to the earth at death. No afterlife, just returning to a natural cycle, fertilizing the earth. Although I no longer follow this faith, I still believe that, and it gives me a sense of peace. No hell, no heaven, just returning to the earth like every other living creature. I have a hard time with the concepts of heaven and hell, they just seem nonsensical to me.

    Interestingly, I just finished reading ‘The Year of the Flood’ by Margaret Atwood, and the characters she describes as ‘God’s Gardeners’ have similar beliefs about life and death, and returning to the earth.

    Her Bad Mother January 8, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    I personally don’t believe in hell. I’m not sure why, I just don’t. And I kinda think that whatever gets called Heaven is just whatever happens to our souls.

    Which is my stumbling block with return-to-earth ideas – what happens to the soul, the spirit, that part of us that has nothing to do with the material? Become part of the universe’s energy, I suppose?

    Jennifer Wenzel January 8, 2010 at 1:07 am

    I believe there is life after death. I believe in reincarnation. I believe in past lives. I don’t know why but I do. No one taught me this. Life experience has just steered me in this direction. I believe that we’re all inhabited by a spirit and that spirit can be released and inhabit elsewhere.

    After experiencing three miscarriages, I found myself innately believing that I had not really lost three babies but that the daughter I ended up having, her spirit, was trying to come to me through all of those pregnancies. I’m sure many would say this is a rationalization on my part but I really believe it and I can’t explain why. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t mourn those losses but this belief helped me put the losses to rest when I finally had my baby girl.

    With that said, after losing two grandmothers and being convinced I’d have a visitation, I was disappointed when I didn’t. My husband lost his mother at 22 and has never felt her presence again. But dreams. There are definitely dreams.

    I don’t believe our spirit is done when our body gives out but I’m also not convinced that we’ll ever meet up with those spirits again — at least not knowingly. THAT is something that I would like to believe and I know that someday when I lose my parents, that will be the thing I’ll want to believe most.

    The finality of death is so incomprehensible, so gripping, so painful.

    I wish I had better answers for you.

    Her Bad Mother January 8, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    Those are pretty good answers :)

    Heaterm January 8, 2010 at 1:08 am

    First, this I’d beautifully written and brought tears to my eyes, thank you. I can relate to your struggle and I do believe. But me telling you that won’t change your experience. It is uniquely yours and if you need faith, you will find it. I Just hope it is sooner rather than later.

    Janine Murray January 8, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    I totally agree that faith will come to those who truly desire it. A need for faith is a beautiful expression of our humanity.

    Nissa January 8, 2010 at 2:41 am

    I too have battled with faith, after losing important people. Yet, the more I learned about (Christian) God, the less I believed in him, or at least, the popular belief of what he is. The older I get, more I see and experience, the further I move from believing in any sort of God or deity. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. I do believe in science – in the idea that this is all the circle of life. We started as carbon and end as carbon, recycled in to the earth to be reborn as trees, plants, etc.

    Where some find comfort in religion and heaven, I find comfort in the fact that we are all part of this ecosystem, that we contribute to the circle of life, and that while were here, life is precious and should be lived to its fullest. We should be kind, generous and make the earth a great place for all who are here. Each person’s life is a lesson to those who exist after. This is the cycle, and it continues.

    I do hope that you find some clarity in this time, whether it’s through your old faith or a new one. I think it’s wonderful that you explore other people’s thoughts and feelings to better understand your own.

    Her Bad Mother January 8, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    I have trouble with the idea of coming to God through religion; ‘God’ I think can mean many things. I guess it’s more clarity on those ‘things’ and what they might mean that I’m seeking.

    Thanks :)

    jeanine January 8, 2010 at 3:11 am

    I think about this a lot, and I find that focusing on these little mysteries rather than great ones, gets me by knowing that my father & my uncle (I talk about it here: http://poppetree.blogspot.com/2010/01/on-this-day-yet-another-moment-gone-on.html) are gone. I know they are gone. And I can’t picture them existing in some other place. Any “contact” that I experience is FOR me, not FROM them.
    .-= jeanine´s last blog ..On this day, yet another moment gone on the Epileptic Clock =-.

    Her Bad Mother January 8, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    The little mysteries, yes. I guess one of these mysteries for me is what ‘gone’ really means.


    Thanks for the link; I look forward to reading your post. :)

    Barb January 8, 2010 at 3:37 am

    I believe that life is eternal and that families are eternal, too. It is a belief that makes up the core of who I am and how I live my life so completely that I have to say that I believe to the point of knowing. I believe that my spirit existed before birth and this earthly existence and will continue on after death and the relationships we hold so closely here are actually renewed from before we were born. Birth and Death are like curtains that sequester us here on earth for a time apart, but that separation is temporary.

    I hope you find the peace and answers you are looking for.
    .-= Barb´s last blog ..1 week vs. 9 months =-.

    Her Bad Mother January 8, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    Families as eternal – that’s beautiful. And true, I think. Thank you.

    Cinthia January 8, 2010 at 4:20 am

    Death is not the end. It can’t be. There has to be something else because there has to be something after this. This, THIS cannot be it. It’s nice, sometimes it sucks to be here, but it can’t be the end.

    I refuse to believe that I would just completely cease to exist at the end of my life. That this soul and spirit and consciousness that has lived within me all this time is just going to disappear into nothingness… and that those who love me and whom I love so, so dearly, are going to become worm food or ashes or a mere nth of what they were before and nothing more. No.

    This can’t be it. I don’t think anyone has to follow a religion, I think beliefs are deeply personal and you find God/Jesus/What you will when you are completely alone and nowhere else. So don’t feel that you need to believe anything specific, that you need to follow a certain set of rules, that in order to believe you have to believe it exactly this way or that way or that otherwise it becomes invalid.

    Believe whatever you want. But believe something. I get a sense of how much you love your dad. My heart is sad for you that you have to live missing him and not seeing him and having him near you for a hug or laugh or whatever you loved best about him. But how someone that inspired that kind of love in you cease to exist? It just can’t be.

    I hope one thing for you this year: that you find, truly, truly find, in your heart, that which gives you the peace and assurance in your mind that there is something after this, that your father is there, and it’s a good place.

    Her Bad Mother January 9, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    “how someone that inspired that kind of love in you cease to exist? It just can’t be.”

    am clinging to that, to exactly that.

    Christy January 8, 2010 at 4:22 am

    I was raised catholic and grew up believing. As I get older, I’m more and more unsure. Like another commenter said, it just doesn’t make sense to me. I understand it’s comforting for some people, a lot of people. It’s comforting for my own daughter, who struggled a lot with the death of my grandfather when she was four. It helps her to believe, and I’m fine with her believing (she’s 8). For me, death is just there, and we all find out what happens at some point. In a way, it’s comforting to me just knowing that everyone dies. No choice, it just happens to everyone. That might sound strange. I do remember reading or hearing someone say, I’m not sure where, that we are all spiritual beings having a human experience. I don’t know, but I hope you are able to work through this and find peace.

    'Becca January 8, 2010 at 5:16 am

    My mother died in late November 2008. I was stuck in the “denial” stage you describe for a very long time, and I return to it every few weeks. So perhaps saying I WAS stuck is incorrect. Regardless, there are more days than not where I am tending The Cheat’s 4-year-old needs, or doing chores, or walking to my car, or standing in the shower, and my brain says, “Hey, remember how your mom died? Sucks, huh?”

    And I sit down hard and say, “What? No. No, you’re wrong, that wasn’t my mom. I still have a mom, she’s–”

    And then I remember. But I don’t understand it. There is no comprehension, no reality, no way there exists a world without my mother in it.

    I don’t know when it stops. I wish I did, so I could tell you. What I do know is that I try very hard not to strangle every well-meaning person who says “she’s in a better place/at least her suffering is over/she’s with Jesus.” First off, I don’t believe that. And secondly, those people are not comforting ME, they’re comforting THEMSELVES. Which is why I don’t punch them.

    I believe in an afterlife. I believe that there is a difference between my mother and Mom. My mother still exists; she’s in the Summerlands, looking over her last life and the lives before it and waiting for the right situation for it to be her turn again. But Mom is gone. She’s part of my mother, but the person who was my Mom died. She died. She doesn’t exist anymore. Someday I might understand that, but not today.

    I’ve had signs from Mom. Some days I believe that, other days I think I’m just fooling myself. Because I don’t KNOW. I don’t KNOW why this happened, I don’t KNOW where she is, I don’t KNOW if she’s okay. I try to make believing enough, and sometimes it is.

    Sometimes it isn’t.

    I hope your “sometimes it is” outweights your “sometimes it isn’t.” If not now, then soon. This is a pain I wouldn’t wish on anyone, and though I perhaps derive some strange comfort knowing I am not the only one, I really just wish there were none of us.

    Jessi January 8, 2010 at 8:54 am

    I don’t believe in a place. I don’t believe in streets of gold beyond the crystal sea. I don’t believe in sitting at the right hand of God. I don’t believe in hell at all. I don’t believe that there is any scriptural basis for hell.

    But I do believe in peace. I believe that when we die, we are privy to all the knowledge and peace and understanding in the universe. I believe that we are all part of the greater whole and that it can only truly be seen from beyond this life that clutters our view.

    It’s weird, but that’s what I’ve got.

    I’ll add though that if there is something inside of you insisting that it’s not just over, then it’s not. You have to ask yourself where that comes from. Perhaps God is in the details. In your head. Perhaps your subconscious knows more than you think it does. But wishful thinking? That I don’t buy.
    .-= Jessi´s last blog ..Just a Little Tweak =-.

    Jill January 8, 2010 at 9:21 am

    I do believe. Having been present when people have died, I can tell you there is a change in the room before it happens- the space between here and the afterlife gets very thin.

    And I don’t think it is a bad thing for you to flail about for a bit. Don’t hurry this…

    kd January 8, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    You make the most profound statement, “And I don’t think it is a bad thing for you to flail about for a bit. Don’t hurry this…” I’m almost 7 years into the death (relocation?) of my mother and still have many minutes, hours, days of befuddlement over the whole question of life/death/meaning of, etc. It’s a journey that no one else can make for us.

    Her Bad Mother January 9, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Yes. I want the flailing to be a good thing, in the end. Or now. Just generally. I hope that you’re right :)

    stacy O January 8, 2010 at 9:24 am

    I really hope you find the peace you need. You sound very troubled. Feb6th my mom will be gone 1year. It has been the hardest year of my life. sometimes I feel I’m at peace with it, and other times, I cry all the way to work. Good Luck

    kootnygirl January 8, 2010 at 9:27 am

    I don’t believe (I feel like I should be apologizing for saying that).

    I’m an atheist, and a pragmatist. So I believe when we die, we go into the earth and fertilize the soil so that other life may thrive. That’s all.

    What it means is that I have to find my solace in myself, in memories and love and in the hundred thousand ways that the people who have left us have actually left part of themselves with us and in us. So far, that has been enough.
    .-= kootnygirl´s last blog ..to sleep, perchance to dream =-.

    Her Bad Mother January 9, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    You don’t need to apologize. I know that many people believe that. And I’m interested in the how and why of that – it’s as important a part of this journey as the rest of it.

    Mrs F with 4 January 8, 2010 at 9:30 am

    I want to believe, I need to believe, I used to believe, right up until my father died the week before my first child was born. I just can’t quite make it back. I hope that you do, though.

    Gunfighter January 8, 2010 at 10:14 am

    I’m fervent, you already know that. Furhter, you already have the answer… of course, it sounds too easy, and too good to be true, but, all you need to do is what you said in your post: Let your guard down.

    Having faith isn’t all about pat answers. IT isn’t all about knowing everything.

    Email if you want to talk.

    Her Bad Mother January 9, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    Thanks, friend :)

    Annie @ PhD in Parenting January 8, 2010 at 10:16 am

    I choose not to believe in anything because I just don’t know and I’m not very good at tricking myself into believing things that I don’t.

    But I do tremendously enjoy hearing my children, who have never been exposed to any religion, share their assumptions about life, birth, death, etc. Both of them seem to believe that we will live our lives over again. When we were at IKEA recently, my daughter saw a crib and said “next time I’m a baby, I want that bed”. My son, talks about the day he will be in my tummy again. Neither of them can understand the concept that there was a time when they just didn’t exist. When we show them pictures from before they were born or even conceived, they will ask over and over again where they were and why they weren’t with us and were they already in my tummy. The kids are also convinced that they were both in my tummy together at some point despite being 2.5 years apart in age.
    .-= Annie @ PhD in Parenting´s last blog ..Are Canadians joyriding the ultrasound machine? =-.

    tuesday January 8, 2010 at 10:19 am

    I lost my father quickly after he was diagnosed with melanoma. He just turned 53.
    I never got to say goodbye.

    That was almost 6 years ago and I still cry when I talk about him.

    I search for messages and signs still, although sometimes I think I am reaching.

    I lost all of my faith after my Father died. Why would God let a young, nice, kind father of 4 die and let mad men and rapists walk the Earth? I still struggle because there is no answer. There will never be.

    I believe in “something” after death. reason tells us we are energy and energy doesn’t just go away, it comes in other forms.
    I once read that all people are reincarnated and the people in your life, the ones you chose and the ones you don’t (your family) have all been with you once before.
    That we come back in other forms (fathers, sister, husbands)to finish our stories with these people.
    I don’t know if I really believe that, but it is nice to dream.
    .-= tuesday´s last blog ..The Bird Lady =-.

    Mary Jo January 8, 2010 at 10:26 am

    I believe in heaven and hell. I believe that my dad is up in heaven waiting to be with us all again one day. He visits my dreams and I believe it’s because I need him. My dad died before I got married, but a week later I dreamed of him being there and talking to me. My husband doesn’t believe it, but I KNOW that was my dad telling me he really was there that day. My sister gets sad that my dad only visits my dreams, and not hers. Maybe it’s because I need him more right now. All I know, believe, feel is that he is waiting for us. He had a favorite song, and I had it played at his funeral… the song describes exactly what we believe is happening. The Cox Family – Far Side Banks Of Jordon. Look it up sometime.
    .-= Mary Jo´s last blog ..January 1st =-.

    Major Bedhead January 8, 2010 at 10:36 am

    I’m writing this before I read anyone else’s comments because I want to get it out without influence.

    I can understand that wanting to know where the person has gone – I had a stepbrother who committed suicide a number of years ago. We were quite close and I was devastated. I had one horrible dream about him burning on a marble tomb and some helpful person told me that was because he was burning in hell. That was my last straw when it came to faith.

    I really don’t think there is an afterlife. What I do think, though, is your father is kept alive in your heart and in your memories. That by talking about him, writing about him so eloquently, by remembering all the good times and even the bad ones, you keep his soul alive.

    In these last months, you have brought your father to life for me and I don’t know him or you at all. But I find myself mourning his death because of how you write of him, because the love you have for him shines so beautifully, even thru your pain. In that way, your relationship with your dad isn’t over, it’s just changed. You’re the one telling his story now and maybe by continuing to tell it, you will find some way to resolve the warring head/heart thing, or at least come to some sort of truce with it.
    .-= Major Bedhead´s last blog ..An Update =-.

    Her Bad Mother January 9, 2010 at 8:55 pm

    “In these last months, you have brought your father to life for me”

    Those words help so tremendously, I can’t even say. Thank you.

    Lawyer Mama January 8, 2010 at 10:41 am

    This is also where I struggle. I’m agnostic. When people close to you die it’s much harder to deal with if you don’t have faith.
    That being said, I have a ghost in my house. I’m convinced of it.
    .-= Lawyer Mama´s last blog ..The Holden Chronicles =-.

    Jen_Ann_W January 8, 2010 at 10:42 am

    I grew up going to church, a hard-core-bible-thumping-we’re-right-and-you’re-going-to-hell type of church. I went to a Presbyterian college that had its fair share of these type of believers. And when my dad got sick my freshman year, they all told me that because he didn’t go to church, he obviously didn’t believe the right things and he would go to hell when he died.

    Needless to say, I don’t associate myself with religion anymore. God, yes, religion, no.

    I believe my Dad is in heaven, whatever heaven may be – whether that means his soul is still here on earth, or if there is an alternate plane of existence where he can eat cinnamon rolls and fly-fish all day – no one will know until we die ourselves. But in my heart I believe in heaven and hell, and that the doors to heaven are flung wide open, and only slam shut to the truly evil, truly vindictive, truly harmful. I still believe in God, and I believe that God loves us, and God IS Love, period. No stipulations, no religious rules.

    I could go on but I start to lose coherency after a while. In the end, you loved you father and he loved you, and that “what if” in your heart is what they call a “seed of faith.” If you don’t want to believe your father is completely gone, then let that seed grow into whatever form it may take.
    .-= Jen_Ann_W´s last blog ..Dear So & So, From the Couch Edition =-.

    Bee January 8, 2010 at 10:44 am

    I’ve been struggling with these thoughts since my brother in law died in April. Being an atheist, I don’t believe in life after death, except in the sense that the various molecular components of the body are recycled and dispersed and eventually become the building blocks of more than one something else.

    This is something I seem to know in my bones, yet it doesn’t do much to sooth my missing him or the feeling that his time here with my sister, his girls and the rest of us who love him was incomplete. And, despite my beliefs I find myself looking (and finding) communications and reassurances from him when I need it the most.

    There is one phenomenon I seem to have become hyper aware of since his death and somehow my attention is drawn to this when I need a reminder of what is important, or when I need to find peace with something particularly challenging.

    I’ve also managed to conjure his presence on airplanes, feeling reassurance and calm when I’ve been desperately afraid as well as in quiet moments in places that held meaning to our family and then been compelled to go hug my sister and her girls a little longer and a little tighter, as if the embraces were from him, because I heard him whispering to me to do so.

    I’m not sure how any of this fits with my understanding of life and death as an atheist – if it somehow undermines what I’ve always known to be true – but I’ve been looking for a way to reconcile or explain these experiences within the context of what I believe, and I think it can be explained in a word: Love.

    Maureen@IslandRoar January 8, 2010 at 10:44 am

    I do believe in something. Even just that energy that is who we are can’t be destroyed. As a nurse I saw many people die and had many experiences that convinced me this is not all there is.
    I’m so sorry for your loss, and the pain you are going through.
    .-= Maureen@IslandRoar´s last blog ..Mush! =-.

    a January 8, 2010 at 10:53 am

    I believe in life after death. I also know that grief and faith are entirely separate – one cannot fix (or, really, damage) the other.

    My father died when I was 22. I was there when he died. I got to say goodbye. But I still have dreams where we find out that he is alive many years later. He comes home to us and won’t say a word about where he’s been. He’s not the same, and while I’m happy to have him back, I know that he’s not really there. I guess it’s my mind’s way of getting a little more time with him here on earth.

    Maybe it’s cultural heritage or pragmatism, but within a week or so of my father’s death, I stopped seeing him as he had been for the last few months of his life (bed-ridden, in pain, embarrassed), and started seeing him as he had always been in my life – fun, goofy, loving. But then, I know why and how he died, because I watched it happen. Maybe that’s where your inability to accept lies.

    Much luck – I hope you can find answers.
    .-= a´s last blog ..Show and Tell – Farm Life =-.

    Jenny M January 8, 2010 at 10:55 am

    When I was 24, my dad had a psychotic break. He killed my mom and then himself. It’s devastating to lose a parent at any age, in any way. But because of the way my dad died, I struggled so MUCH with where he was. Was there a Heaven? If so, how could he be there after what he did? But how could it make sense for him to be in hell, since this final horrifying act came out of a place of so much pain? Why would he be punished for being in more pain than he could bear?

    I had an awesome therapist who listened to me try to sort it all out, and finally said, “Jenny, it isn’t up to you.”

    She made me see that whatever is, is, in spite of my belief or confusion or agony. There was no pressure on me to know anything. My agony over wanting him to be at peace in spite of my rage over what he did … that was just mine. It didn’t impact his truth.

    But I do believe. I know, now. I have been visited by both my parents and I know they’re at peace. It’s not over, and I will see them again.

    It’s been eleven years. Sometimes it still hurts so much it knocks the breath right out of me and I’ll have a few moments of the pure panic of knowing I’m without them. But far, far more often, I’m happy.

    Molly January 8, 2010 at 10:57 am

    I think there has to be a heaven, but I don’t comprehend death well. My grandma passed away about 5 years ago. I’ve always liked Angels and now they remind me of her, I like to think she’s my guardian angel.

    Then there are other things I can’t fathom. Like Maddie. How can we live in a world where kids are allowed to die. It just seems wrong.

    I lived in a suite my sophomore year that had a ghost. Too many things happened for it not to be there. Faucets turning on and off, lights falling, things going bump. Our suite used to talk to her. I know that might sound totally nuts.

    Roberta January 8, 2010 at 10:58 am

    My dad died unexpectedly a little over four years ago. He was a pragmatic, down-to-earth non-religious man, whose church and cathedral were the natural world. I’m a lot like him. He grew up hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, and was never happier than when outdoors with the dogs, the horses, me. He said a time or two that if he could come back as something, he’d want to be a bird of prey. He admired their broad wingspans, their eyesight, their skill, their majesty. He also said that when he died, he’d really prefer if his body could just be left in the woods, the wilderness, to return to nature. No fuss. Just the natural way of things. As this is generally illegal, we couldn’t indulge him there. For me, the more I learn about religion, the more I realize I am an atheist. I do like certain ideas from various religions – reincarnation as an animal is one of them. My father was so connected to the earth that I cannot imagine him anywhere else. He wished to be cremated. His ashes are still in urns in a closet in my mother’s house (right next to the wine – he’d like that). We have plans to put some of his ashes in a lake that he and my mother fished in. She is undecided if she also wants a memorial plaque somewhere. As I told my mother, such things as graves and memorial stones do not give me comfort. The rest of his ashes, I plan to take back to the mountains of New Mexico, where my father was born, grew up, and spent most of his life. I want to return him to the wilderness he so loved. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It gives me great comfort to think of his ashes, his essence, the remainder of his body, there in those mountains, a thousand thousand particles to the wind and the earth, perhaps coloring the sunset, fertilizing an aspen tree. And if I see an eagle, I will wonder.
    .-= Roberta´s last blog ..Party like it’s 2009 =-.

    kd January 8, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    I loved this, Roberta…

    Dawn January 8, 2010 at 11:07 am

    I believe as many commenters have, that families are forever. I will share this story with you, in hopes that it somehow comforts you. It is 100% true.
    We are NOT a religious family and I have shamefully not educated my kids very much in spirituality. I had believed my family was complete after my second child was born; I had a girl and a boy and no plans for more.

    (Side note: during a very rough period of my life, long before children, I had had a very vivid dream that I had three very young, blond children and at the time I *knew* they were my future babies come to visit me.)

    Anyway not long after my daughter started talking, she came to me one day, very serious and genuinely confused. (She was barely speaking in complete sentences, this was by far the longest verbal exchange we had had up to that point.)
    “Where’s the other one?” she asked.
    “What other one?” I replied.
    “Before we were born, there was me, there was *brother’s name* and there was another one. Where’s the other one?” She innocently replied.

    What stands out so clearly for me was that she was completely serious, and expected me to tell her where the other sibling was. I told her that there was no other sibling, but she looked unconvinced.

    Sure enough I very unexpectedly found myself pregnant with a third child two year later. She and her sister are absolutely inseparable. And yes, I do believe that they knew one another before they were sent to Earth and that she was waiting for her sister.

    duchessbelle January 8, 2010 at 11:08 am

    I believe in Heaven. I don’t really know how or why…but I do. I remember having dreams when I was a kid where every family lived in big tiki huts and you could wander around and go visit anyone you wanted to and I went and visited Ben Franklin.

    LD January 8, 2010 at 11:28 am

    I’m sorry you are going through this. Truly. I’ve been through grief like this with the death of my grandparents, and I am positive it would be worse for you with your father. (for me it would be).
    I believe in God. I believe in Heaven. I am not a big fan of church, but I do believe that you can separate church and God, and figure out what you believe.
    I absolutely loved my grandmother and she passed away on Mother’s Day a couple of years ago. My son was little – 3. And he didn’t understand what was going on, exactly. I had him and my niece who was 5 in the car. And while I driving and crying I listened to her explain to him what death was all about.
    It was so very simple to her. She said that Great-Grandma was hurting and was sad and missed Great-Grandpa. And when Jesus saw how sad she was, and didn’t think her body should hurt that much, he took her to heaven to be with Great Grandpa.
    She added “I don’t know why everyone is so sad.”
    The thing is, no one had explained this to my niece. She just saw what was going on and willingly accepted it.
    Sometimes I think that if we could see things like kids it would be much easier.
    .-= LD´s last blog ..As a Julie Powell fan – do I attempt Boeuf Bouginon or the Gimlet? =-.

    sweetsalty kate January 8, 2010 at 11:40 am

    There is something. I don’t feel up to recounting it right now, but when Liam died the room was so full I could have touched it. The moment I asked for him to be taken (a desperate move, as I’m not religious) he was lifted off my chest. Literally, his weight shifted (though it didn’t) and I knew the second he had died (after twelve hours).

    I don’t know if I’d call it an afterlife. But there is something, and I have no doubt of that. It was just concentrated joy and peace and love.
    .-= sweetsalty kate´s last blog ..the feminist oaf’s manifesto =-.

    Jennifer January 8, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    I’m not sure what I believe.

    Perhaps I’m grasping at straws here with spirits but the day after I found out I was pregnant with my third, I dreamt about a little girl. A little girl so beautiful and sweet my heart ached.

    Almost immediately after that my husband started freaking out and told me that we weren’t able to cope with a third. That I should go to the hospital and get things “sorted”.

    I refused. Categorically. I had a glimpse of a child and I knew that I would never forgive myself if I capitulated.

    Needless to say, the relationship has been tough going ever since. Every once in a while, I’ll catch a glimpse of the little girl I saw in my husband’s mannerisms. A look. A smile.

    Is this all my imagination? Or did my future daughter’s spirit contact me to ensure that she got born (because yes, the ultrasound confirmed that it’s a girl)?

    If so, she’s going to be one hell of challenge, isn’t she?

    Jennifer January 8, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    Had to break off there…

    All that to say that I guess I do believe. Before life, after life. We’re all masses of energy.

    I’m sorry you’re going through such a difficult time.

    Amy January 8, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    Catherine, thanks so much for sharing this with us. Your honesty and vulnerability is so beautiful and inspiring. And I’m not just saying that to flatter you – this is the stuff of real life and so it should be praised whenever it is found!

    Like so many other people, the story from the Hebrew Bible of Jacob wrestling with the Angel resonates with me because for my whole life my faith has been a struggle. I was raised Catholic, and during my teens and early twenties I was a fervent Catholic. Then some complicated and bad things happened. And I went to college and studied philosophy and literature and history and became an agnostic.

    But God would not leave me be. No matter how much I ran. No matter how intense my doubts. No matter how irrational it all seemed. No matter how brazenly I sinned. As a matter of fact, it was at lowest, most despairing moment that he met me, and I really understood Grace for the first time.

    If you have never read the poem by Francis Thompson, “The Hound of Heaven,” please allow me to recommend it. It beautifully expresses the pursuit of God that I know I experienced (though I only have recognized it as such in hindsight).

    “I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days;
    I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
    I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
    Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
    I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
    Up vistaed hopes I sped;
    And shot, precipitated,
    Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
    From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
    But with unhurrying chase,
    And unperturbèd pace,
    Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
    They beat—and a Voice beat
    More instant than the Feet—
    ‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’”

    ( The rest of the poem: http://www.bartleby.com/236/239.html )
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..2009 In Review =-.

    Lorraine January 8, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    When I was 7, my grandfather died. I was scared because all the grownups were crying and I didn’t know what “dead” really meant. My grandfather’s minister sat down with me and told me a quiet story that has stuck with me all my life. “Watch a ship’s sail disappear over the horizon, into the unseen and the unknown. You know that it hasn’t disappeared from the world, simply from your sight. It’s still sailing on the same blue ocean that you can dip your toes into–but it’s sailing an uncharted course to points unknown. It’s all part of our big adventure.” Or words to that effect. As a result of that old man’s words, I’ve always thought about death as a sea voyage to unknown lands. I think about salt spray and sunshine and the cry of seabirds. I think about my friend or loved one hanging onto a line and coursing through waves just big enough to be thrilling without being scary. And when my time comes, I hope I’ll be able to find that story in me as well. We have a choice to make when confronted with the grat mystery of what comes next: go forward in fear and sorrow, or go forward with hope, looking forward to the continuation of a great adventure. I think that might be my idea of faith.


    T January 8, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    I believe that our spirits live on. I am a Catholic, but my faith is a mixutre of beliefs that are a result of my life experiences. I don’t believe in reincarnation, per say. But, I do believe that our spirits go on and can take hold of things in nature. In particular, I feel that way about birds. Strange, I know. I don’t believe in your typical heaven and hell, but I believe that I will be reunited with my loved ones somehow and we will exist together. There will be peace and no pain or suffering.

    My father died when I was 11. He died at home, in hospice care, 6 months after my grandmother died. She also died in our home, with hospice care. Both times they died, I knew before they were passing that it was time. I was at church when my grandmother died, and in mass, I was ‘called’ to look at the clock at the back of the church and thought to myself…grandma just died. When we got home, the hospice nurse told us she passed away. When my father died, I was by his side. It was more peaceful than one would expect…also teribbly lonely and cold (for me). After my father died, birds would often sit on my bedroom windowsill. Instinctively, I would say, ‘hi dad’. I don’t know where this believe came from. The day I got married, I was at my mothers home (not the home my father passed away in) and two doves sat on her balcony railing for a good 10 minutes. Again, I felt my father’s presence. I also believe that when I have dreams about my dad, which are very rare, it is him. I don’t believe it’s just a dream – it is his spirit.

    I hope this helps you. I don’t know your exact pain, but I know the pain of losing your father. It is terribly difficult and I hope you can find solace.

    Angie January 8, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    I don’t know, and the not knowing is something I’m struggling with mightily right now, and have struggled with since my dad died the day after Thanksgiving, 2006. I don’t have answers, and most days I don’t know that I even have belief or faith. But I want to thank you for writing this post. Knowing that I’m not alone in questioning and questing – it’s a balm. It soothes an ache that I’ve carried for three years and as such don’t even notice that it’s there most of the time. I am so sorry for your loss and for your own ache that you carry. But thank you so much for sharing this. Thank you. Thank you.

    Todd '@tojosan' Jordan January 8, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    I believe in life, life that exists beyond the boundaries of the physical body. I believe that our bodies are merely a vessel for the soul, that we are more than flesh and bones, more than aches and pains.

    When my grandmother passed, I was happy for her passing. Not happy to see her go, no not ever, but she believed in God and his blessings, and I believe with her. Her suffering on this earth ended.

    My brother, struggling with ALS, continues to lose more control of his body. Today he’ll be getting breathing tube to help him continue living in this world. Soon he’ll lose his voice as well. Yet he seems happier and stronger than in many years.

    He tells me he’s at peace with God and His will. I’m blessed by his strength and his contentment. He’s not afraid. Our mom is afraid, his kids are struggling, our mother is at the edge, yet Tag gets stronger each day.

    My concern is no longer what will happen to him, or me. I worry for his children, his wife, and our mother. I’ll focus my energies on them, where I can make a difference and share the strength Tag has given me.

    Not sure this rambling on will help or distract. I do hope it helps you see the passing in a different light.

    Sending big hugs.
    .-= Todd ‘@tojosan’ Jordan´s last blog ..Daily Quote via Dwixi =-.

    Luann January 8, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    I beleive. You pain makes me so sad. I lost my dad very suddenly in 1998. I had been to see him on a Sunday to celebrate his birthday. I vividly remember giving him a hug when we left and telling him I loved him. Then on Friday he was dead. A heart attack. I never got to say goodbye. I never wanted to see the body. I didn’t want to remember him that way. And I don’t.

    What gets me thru is remembering him. Thinking about things he said or did. And it makes me smile. I dont focus on where he is now because I know where he is. He’s in my heart. And my sister’s hearts. And together we can talk about him and remember him and he lives on thru us.

    Yes I had a hard time accepting that I would never see him again or talk to him again. But whenever I have something I want to tell him or ask him I imagine what he would say.

    Time makes it better. I promise.

    Jack January 8, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    I am torn about this. The rational part of my head says no, but my heart says yes. I have had a couple of experiences that make me believe that there is something after life.

    One of my best friends died 11.5 years ago. He was 29. I wrote a post a few years ago about how he is taking care of a little boy whose grave is near his.

    There is a long story involved in how and why I believe this. I could tell you about how I think a grandfather and an uncle visited me from wherever it is they are now.

    The hardest part about this is that the face that works for one person may not work for another. You just have to find what resonates with you.

    I am sorry for your loss.
    .-= Jack´s last blog ..Kiss Me Daddy =-.

    Michelle Din January 8, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    Your response resonated with me, who still struggles. My dad passed this mortal vale only months ago, so thank you.

    Candace January 8, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    Wow. I am dealing with this same thing. I emailed you a month or so ago. My father passed November 6. I have the SAME questions. The same need to “know” that there is more. I was not done. My Dad was not done. There was so much more to say and do. So beautifully written. Maybe I need to broaden my mind and also take a look at FAITH. I haven’t had much in my life. Maybe now is the time to start seeing what might make sense to me. Thank you for your posts. I need them.

    Her Bad Mother January 9, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    I’m so sorry I haven’t responded yet – I’ve read every mail I’ve received but have had trouble many days replying, just because I’m so moved and emotionally OOF and the words often just don’t come.

    But thank you. THANK YOU.

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